The Milk Hours
Winner of the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, The Milk Hours is an elegant debut that searches widely to ask what it means to exist in a state of loss.
“We lived overlooking the walls overlooking the cemetery.” So begins the title poem of this collection, whose recursive temporality is filled with living, grieving things, punctuated by an unseen world of roots, bodies, and concealed histories. Like a cemetery, too, The Milk Hours sets unlikely neighbors alongside each other: Hegel and Murakami, Melville and the Persian astronomer al-Sufi, enacting a transhistorical poetics even as it brims with intimacy. These are poems of frequent swerves and transformations, which never stray far from an engagement with science, geography, art, and aesthetics, nor from the dream logic that motivates their incessant investigations.
Indeed, while John James begins with the biographical—the haunting loss of a father in childhood, the exhausted hours of early fatherhood—the questions that emerge from his poetic synthesis are both timely and universal: what is it to be human in an era where nature and culture have fused? To live in a time of political and environmental upheaval, of both personal and public loss? How do we make meaning, and to whom—or what—do we turn, when such boundaries so radically collapse?
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Praise and Prizes
“The poetry of the earth is intensely alive in the poems of John James. In this luminous first book, there are poems of a son and a young father. Many of the best inhabit a tormented Kentucky landscape where there is a field with horses, a house and a barn, a flooding river, a cemetery where a parent lies, and bees or flies hovering. Out of the sorrowful fragments of personal history, John James has a created a book of unusual intelligence and beauty.”
“John James writes with a patient honesty and a lyric beauty that will leave you ringing.”
“John James does as that first singer did, Caedmon, who sang because he was told he must do so―a song of praise, of animals and life, of land and blood and time. Such work is wholly personal and completely anonymous, embedded in the very life and limb whose limits it also astonishingly resists.”
“John James’s poems dig deep as he asks us to join him at the edge of his excavations, to see what he’s unearthed, and we can’t help but look until we see it too.”